There was plenty of grinning during the Baltimore Orioles' 17-1 trouncing of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays tonight at Tropicana Field, and understandably so. Any game in which 3,000-hit club debutante and wannabe knuckleballer Wade Boggs ends up pitching is bound to be good for a laugh or two.
The Orioles grinned their way to 20 hits, notching their biggest victory since a 22-1 thrashing of Atlanta on June 13 and batting around three times against a Devil Rays squad short on pitching and defense. Mike Bordick drove in five runs with four hits, both matching career highs. Rookie Ryan Minor had a career-high three hits. Delino DeShields scored four runs.
And Orioles starter Sidney Ponson (11-7) pitched his league-leading sixth complete game, lowering his earned run average to 3.95.
But one grin stands out tonight. It was a loaded grin. It was Will Clark's.
As Clark rounded first base tonight in the fourth inning, having just driven in B.J. Surhoff from second base with a single, he began clapping his hands animatedly. Then he pointed and grinned devilishly at third-base coach Sam Perlozzo, who, to the best of Clark's knowledge, had held up nothing but stop signs in such situations before tonight.
This was Clark's first RBI since July 24 -- a span of 45 at-bats -- and his first without the benefit of a home run since July 20. But unless you hit home runs, it isn't easy driving in runs in the bottom half of the Orioles' lineup, which often includes Harold Baines, Clark, Cal Ripken and Charles Johnson -- one of the slower four-player lineup segments in baseball.
Try getting one of them home from second on a single. Clark has counted eight straight times in which he has singled with a runner on second base, and the runner did not score.
"Will is very good about it," Perlozzo said. "I tell him I have to do what's right [in holding up slow runners]. It's going to cost him his share of RBI."
It is easy to understand Clark's frustration. Entering this season, he had averaged an RBI every 5.9 at-bats. This season, batting primarily behind Albert Belle (whose number of doubles is far below his career numbers) and Baines, Clark is down to one every 8.7 at-bats. But his batting average (.300) and slugging percentage (.483) are consistent with the rest of his career.
Clark was leading the Orioles with a .370 batting average when he went on the disabled list April 19 with a broken left thumb. By the time he returned five weeks later, he had lost his No. 3 spot in the lineup to Surhoff, along with whatever chance of being the big run-producer the Orioles expected when they signed him last winter.
"What am I going to do, complain?" Clark said. "No, I'm going to keep going out there and hitting."
There were very few complaints from the Orioles tonight, and plenty of hitting. It took them only one inning to chase starter Dave Eiland (2-7), and seven more innings to chase three more relievers.
Finally, when Mike Duvall plunked Clark with the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth, bringing in the Orioles' 16th run, Devil Rays Manager Larry Rothschild turned to Boggs, much to the delight of the crowd of 17,848.
Boggs, who last pitched in a game Aug. 19, 1997, retired Johnson on a fly ball to right field to end the eighth. But after striking out Delino DeShields and retiring Minor on a grounder to open the ninth, Boggs gave up consecutive hits to Rich Amaral, Bordick and Jeff Conine. Finally, Belle succumbed on a fly ball to center to end the game and commence the one-liners.
"I told the guys who made outs, `Don't feel bad -- a Hall of Famer got you out,' " Miller said. " `Just don't tell anybody it was a Hall of Fame hitter.' "
"I think they should take three hits away from him" for the three he gave up, Conine said of Boggs. "What does he have, 3,001 hits? He should have to go back to 2,998."